Photokina, the leading international trade fair for the entire imaging sector is a photographic highlight of the year – two years actually – for amateurs, professionals, photography experts, manufacturers, retailers and distributors all around the world. Held in Cologne, the biennial exhibition hosts hundreds of imaging companies and this year close to 200.000 guests from almost every part of the world are flocking to the land of Sauerkraut and Lederhosen to see a grand total of 1,250 exhibitors from 40+ countries.

I have a very personal approach to Photokina. I am not after the new products or the latest technological gizmos – instead, I focus on interesting things that I feel could improve my photographic workflow, image quality and artistic expression. It is a rare opportunity to talk to the manufacturers and they are usually listening, being open for suggestions, impovements and even critique. 

Before the products, there’s people. Always so many interesting people to meet at Photokina and this year was no exception. I was invited by Marius Plytnikas, the regional development manager for Canon Video products, to spend some cool time with director, cinematographer and web video guru Philip Bloom. Philip is an extremely interesting guy and has an amazing cool factor – no wonder his blog is visited by tens of thousands of fans daily. Philip is a Canon spokesperson for the C300 camera and you could see that his affection for this mighty machine is very pristine. The new wide-open CN-E video lenses (a sort of Canon’s CP.2’s with spectacular T-stops) were also on display at Canon’s state-of-the-art hall, as was the standard lot of all the latest, freshest and coolest cameras and imaging products – the 6D, S110 and C100 included.
I was enjoying my prosciutto hors d’oeuvres and chatting with Guido Puttkamer, the managing director of Hensel GMBH. He was telling the story about Hensel’s pioneering venture into the development of the first portable strobe system unit (Porty) and how Broncolor and Profoto are always arguing about which one has the shortest flash duration (it is Hensel). Profoto did surprise everybody this year though with the new battery unit called Pro-B4 1000 Air, sporting some very impressive specs (1/25.000s flash duration, 30 flashes per second and just 45 minutes full battery recharging time), but at the $8000 price tag, who really cares?
This year I was also fortunate enough to meet Mr. Dedo Weigert, the inventor of the legendary Dedolight and an amazingly fine gentleman, whose trademark white beard resembles that of KFC’s very own Colonel. Mr. Weigert won an Academy Award for his lighting innovations and his booth was full of goodies one would love to play with all the time. The most interesting gadget I found there was a rig called C1 PRO by Cinemecanix, a Canadian custom-made, heavy duty, hands free (!) shoulder support with all the bells and whistles. It is super comfortable and perfectly balanced on your shoulder, so you can let go of your rig with both hands at any time and your gear stays in place. If I were buying a new rig today, this heavy, CNC-machined beast would most definitely be on the top of my list!!

As usually, the Chinese and Korean manufacturers were heavily present in Cologne. They are always bringing some crazy, funky-but-cool cheapo stuff to sell (remember, you get what you pay for!), but I also saw some very high quality Made in China products in the grip and video rig category, with the price tags to match the quality. The Cinematics people came, bringing their cine-moded lens arsenal called Cinematics CT.2, which looks suspiciously similar to Zeiss CP.2 series. They told me they have patented their special geared lens housing in China and that Zeiss has no beef with them - not entirely true, as I later found out at the booth of the latter; the boys from Carl Zeiss were not pleased at all. Just by looking at a CP.2 lens cut in half (Zeiss had a couple of them available for demonstration) you can see the quality and craftsmanship of these optical cathedrals on steroids. I wanted to know if the CP.2’s were made in Japan (as you know, Cosina makes most Zeiss lenses), but they assured me that for this product line, the Japanese parts (amongst others) are assembled by hand in Oberkochen, Germany.

The “little big boys” were in Cologne as well – Blaesing, who makes custom flashes (need a strobe in the shape of that beer jug? Just call them!), Bacht, who designs complex lighting devices (they also produce zoom spots and rigid striplights for many strobe companies), Arca Swiss and Alpa with their incredibly alluring clockwork masterpieces, and the “best-kept-secret” lens company from Korea called Samyang/Wallimex/Rokinon/etc., which exploded all over the photo & video scene with their ultra-affordable, wide-open professional quality SLR lenses ranging from 8 to 85mm, which are now also available in cine-moded versions. From the hundreds of really good exhibitors, these are the ones I chose to mention here, but many, many others had amazing stuff as well – HPRC (cases), B-Grip (belt grips), Genus (rigs), K5600 (lighting), Leica (medium format cameras), Kessler (grip equipment), O’Connor (matte boxes, follow focus and stands), Lupolux (LED and HMI fresnel lights), Technicolor (camera profiles), Aurora (light banks), Think Tank (bags) to name but just a few. Just go and browse the blogs.

One of the unfortunate disappointments of the 2012 Photokina was the tiny, overcrowded Hasselblad booth in Hall 2. A black Ferrari convertible just sitting put behind the fence, blocking one third of the entire booth and a “catwalk” stage that resembled a high-class strip club… what happened here? In my personal opinion as a H4D owner the new Hasselblad H5D camera housing also seems to have a much cheaper feel to it than the previous series – but mind you it was the prototype I handled. Of course the specs are improved and the camera’s user interface, battery and other features are completely redesigned, which makes the new Hasselblad an even greater camera to own, but the Photokina presentation of one of the world’s most respected fashion, architectural and product photography tools left a lot of room for improvement (a german photographer Manfred Baumann for example managed to gather a huge crowd in hall 9 when he did his live workshop on a proper, long catwalk – with a topless model in translucent g-strings). I do not even want to start the new Hasselblad Lunar for $6.500 vs. Sony NEX 7 debate... 
I was also disappointed with Lastolite because they too make great products, but refused to bring any of them from UK for sale (I am in the market for the big Tri-Grip). Photoflex and California Sunbounce next door were selling their (discounted!) reflectors and other stuff like hot cakes, so I went and got one of those. Please learn from that, Lastolite…

Photokina is a beast. Nobody can imagine the grandeur and expanse of the world’s largest photography fair until they visit it. You absolutely have to experience it yourself. The city of Cologne lives and breathes with the fair, the atmosphere is super-relaxed and the ice-cold Koelsch beer is available everywhere. For some, that fact alone is a big enough reason to come.

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